James Earl Hardy is a 1993 Columbia University school of journalism graduate,
and an award-winning
entertainment feature writer, reporter, and critic. Besides the B-Boy series, he's
also written biographies of Spike Lee and Boyz II Men and his writings
have appeared in The Washington Post, Out, Essence, The Advocate, Newsweek,
Entertainment Weekly and Vibe. Mike Gray spoke to him in his Manhattan apartment.
OutUK: What was the inspiration for the two characters Mitchell and Raheim?
James: That's a good question..no one's really asked that before...they're both
based on folks that I know...not any one individual for each character in particular.
What I usually do in creating a character is take certain traits or characteristics,
a look, a style, a language of someone that I know or happen to come across.
OutUK: Your books have a very cinematic quality. There are loads of references
to R&B, soul and hip-hop, vivid dialogue and a very fast pace. Is there any chance of any of them being filmed?
James: Well, I'd love to see it happen. There's been some interest over the
past three years but it hasn't really been in my eyes genuine. I think that filmakers,
producers, directors have seen how popular the series is and know there is an audience
out there who would love to see the story on the screen, even the small screen or the big screen.
But when it comes down to it they really want to change certain things which would
take away the essence and soul of the story.
OutUK: Your first book had this real cinematic approach, the second was very much in
hip-hop language, the third very compact, all very different. Have you continued
to find a new approach with this book?
James: Oh yeh, definitely. The Day Eazy-E Died, the structure itself
is different in that the chapters are identified by a specific date and time. And
all the action takes place over three weeks. Whereas the first three books really
focus on the relationship between Mitchell and Raheim and by extension the relationship
they have with others in their immediate family and circle..this novel focuses on
HIV and AIDS.
OutUK: There are still frightening statistics about HIV infection amongst young African Americans,
is that the reason for your focus for this book?
James: I think that this is a story that Raheim wanted to tell. And I think it
rather fitting that he would face I guess what you would call a crisis at the particular
moment in time when someone he admired is hospitalised with AIDS and specifically
someone he never would have thought would have had AIDS. So the reality that it can happen
to brothers like me really hit home. So he decides to get tested for the virus, and I think
he's at a point in his life when he knows there are certain things he cannot ignore
even at a time when he has not officially come out, even most specifically to his mother and his son.
But it shows that he has grown a lot since he and Mitchell first met, and he's just
not worried about himself, but the man he loves too. I just think it was a natural progression.
OutUK: In the UK being gay amongst many members of the
black community is totally taboo...what has the reaction been in the States to your work?
James: Well I think most people fall into a couple of categories. Either they are
intrigued by the story...here you have these two brothers who are from very different worlds
and they fall in love. I think the universality of the story resonates with folks.
This story has been told a million times before, it's just that this time it happens to
be two black men and we really don't have too many stories told from this particular
vantage point. And then there are those people who are very indifferent. Not only do
they not want to talk about homosexuality/homosexuals, they do not even want to acknowledge we
exist. I haven't really faced any hardcore homophobia from African Americans. I do
have a sizeable readership who are black and female. They may initially pick up the
book not sure, but after they get 30, 40, 50 pages in, they totally forget they
are reading a story about two men. That to me shows for all our differences we really are
very much the same.
OutUK: Who are you writing for? A black readership? A gay readership?
James: I'm actually writing for Mitchell and Raheim because they're the ones
who decide what story is going to be told, why it's going to be told and when it's
going to be told. I'm just going with the flow. When I decided to write B-Boy Blues I just
wanted specifically to see something on a bookshelf which reminded me of myself.
But the the book itself took off and then took on a life of its own. Then it turned into this.
That was certainly not my intention. So the characters themselves have been the driving force,
because if I'd have had my way I don't think I'd have continued with it, I'd have returned
to my journalism career.